1. With the Twins signing of Addison Reed, is the closer job open for competition?
Kras: I would guess the closer job is tentatively going to go to Fernando Rodney to start the season. However, if Rodney struggles early, or at any point for that matter, Reed may get a chance at the job. Regardless of who the closer is, I do like the addition of Reed and the 1-2 combo him and Rodney provide at the back end of the bullpen. The Reed signing is for 2-years $17 million which is not outrageous money. I think Twins management has made some nice under the radar moves this offseason, without spending much money.
Nate Leer: Kras lays out the situation well. Rodney is the closer unless he doesn’t do the job. In that case, Reed gets a shot. Reed is the most talented option we have had at the back end of the bullpen in years. He regressed a bit but still put up solid numbers last year as opposed to the truly dominating season in 2016. Kras also makes a good point about the overall offseason. If management adds at least a #3 type starter once the market starts to take shape, this offseason looks like a B+ that sets them up well to compete again next year. I would also like to see a veteran righty OF/DH type with pop but, whether they add more or not, the reconfigured bullpen could be a real strength for this team.
2. Did the Vikings miracle win over the Saints make you more or less confident in their ability to win the Super Bowl?
Kras: I came away from that game less confident in their ability to steamroll the competition moving forward. The Vikes played about as well as they could have for the first half of that game before crashing back to earth in the second half. The D’s inability to stop or even slow down Drew Brees in the second half is very concerning. Lucky for the D, Brees was very mediocre for most of that game. The other concern is on the O side of the ball and their lack of production after halftime. I understand relaxing a bit when a team has a lead and playing more of a bend but don’t break style of D. However, the 17-point lead the Vikes had at the half was not what I would consider a “big lead”, especially given the competition. Against Philadelphia, I think the Vikes will need to establish the run early and make sure they can keep moving the ball on the ground throughout the game. Taking pressure off of Case Keenum will help limit the potential mistakes he could make with his arm and his willingness to try and force a play to happen.
Nate Leer: I am probably less confident from seeing the Vikes needing to get lucky to win after building a 17 point lead and blowing it all. The Vikes may have the best D in the league but that does not guarantee that a good QB can’t get hot against them. In this era of the NFL, I am not sure any D will be able to contain a good passing game for 60 minutes. So, while the Vikes should walk over Philly, a likely matchup with the Pats in the Super Bowl presents a challenge against another HOF QB in Tom Brady. The flip side of that coin comes into play with the inability of the O to fully capitalize on their breaks in the 1st half and seeming unwillingness to impose their will once they had a big lead. Simply stated, the O has to be better if they want to beat the Pats in the Super Bowl. I think the OC is partly to blame for not committing to the run with the lead. However, I am more concerned with QB Case Keenum’s inability to to convert 1st downs and TDs leaving the VIkes kicking field goals or punting far too often. The Saints may have a more talented D than the Pats but HC Bill Belichick should be able to scheme well against a limited passer like Keenum. One thing Keenum could do to help his cause is pull the ball down and run more. I thought there were several times when he had chunks of yardage in front of him and opted to make tough throws that usually were not successful. I like his ability to keep his eyes upfield when he scrambles but getting key 1st downs with his legs is a difference making skill he has.
3. Do you think the Timberwolves will finish as high as or higher than a 4th seed in the West?
Kras: I think it is possible that this Wolves team does finish with a seed higher than. I may be buying into this team a bit too much but they have come together and played well over the past month and a half. Jimmy Butler is the biggest reason for this club’s turnaround but it also appears the other teams in the West may help their cause. Outside of the Warriors and the Rockets, the West has a lot of uncertainty. Kawhi Leonard’s health being a question mark at times has set the Spurs back.
Nate Leer: I agree that it is entirely possible that the Wolves finish ahead of the Spurs in the 3 spot in the West. There are 2 main reasons this is a possibility, even though very few of us would say the Wolves are the better team, and those reasons are very linked together. First off, the Wolves are healthier than the Spurs especially where it matters most, the superstars. As Kras points out, Leonard has not been fully healthy all year and without him the Spurs are a very average team. Closely related to the Leonard injury issues is the general age and experience of the Spurs making it much more likely that they punt games in order to rest their best players. As is usually the case in the NBA, the up and coming Wolves are much more likely to care about playoff seeding and win totals than the veteran team. Expect the Wolves to push for the 3 seed while the Spurs shift into neutral down the stretch in order to stay healthy and rested.
1. Do the Jags have a chance?
Nate Leer: I don’t think they do. Maybe they get a 1% chance for showing up but if Brady plays, I believe it’s already over. The Jags definitely have a good D but Brady will find ways to exploit it for points and I don’t believe Jags QB Blake Bortles can beat a Belichick D. Much the same as the Vikes take above, I expect the better QB and coach to top a good Jaguars D.
Kras: It will obviously be a tough challenge for the Jags to best the defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots. With that said, I thought the Steelers would handle business and take care of the Jags, which was not the case. I was very impressed with the way the Jags were able to run the ball and we all know how important that can be to a team’s success. RB Leonard Fournette was solid yet again, rushing for 100+ yards and 3 TDs. T.J. Yeldon also added some important O throughout the day and ultimately a rushing TD to give the Jags 4 total on the ground for the game. Although the Jags D gave up 42 points, I don’t believe the Pats O is nearly as dynamic as the Steelers nor was the game as close as the score would indicate. If the Jags D can step up and shut down Tom Brady this coming week in the AFC Championship game, they should be able to handle either Nick Foles or Case Keenum come Feb. 4.
2. Are the San Francisco Giants poised to make a run at the World Series after their acquisitions of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen?
Kras: I think they are interesting moves that should help the Giants but I don’t know if it is enough to guarantee them a spot in the World Series. Longoria, age 32 and McCutchen 31, both should have a few MLB seasons of quality production left in them. It sounds as if the Giants plan to move Cutch to right field which will reduce some wear and tear on him as he should have less ground to cover than if he were in center field. Both guys had 80+ RBI last season which will certainly help the lineup. However, It will take more than some key hits and some RBI to get back to, and win, another World Series. Pitching may play a key role in a Giants run if it were to happen.
Nate Leer: I think the Giants have set themselves up well for a deep postseason run. They look like at worst the #2 team in the NL West and having Madison Bumgarner at the top of an otherwise decent rotation makes them a legit contender. Kras is correct that they certainly aren’t guaranteed anything but I like the additions of veteran bats with enough power to provide consistent pop in the middle of the lineup. Cutch and Longo should be average to good corner fielders for the next couple years and their desire to win big should help drive the Giants.
3. Do you think Luke Walton will be out as the Lakers coach after this season?
Kras: I hope not but I could see it happening. As with all coaches, he needed some time to get his system and his players in place. In the the Laker’s situation, they are planning to make runs at such players as LeBron James and Paul George. If LeBron were to go to L.A., they may just need to let him hand pick his coach. The reality is, the Lakers just don’t have a lot of cohesive talent. Going into next season it is hard to imagine that there will be many sure things for the Lakers. It will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds moving into next season. I hope for Walton’s sake he gets a chance to coach a worthwhile group of players.
Nate Leer: My guess is he will be replaced and that is really the Lakers loss. I would guess that Walton gets another chance to coach a team within a year or at most 2 so he will be fine. As Kras points out, the Lakers are very likely to pursue a couple big time free agents and that may mean that they go a different direction at head coach. I think Walton has done a very good job managing young players, and their parents. He was not hired by Lakers president Magic Johnson but I hope that Magic is smart and strong enough to give him a couple more years running the show with better players. Either way, Walton will eventually be successful as an NBA head coach and the Lakers would be smart to keep him around until he reaches that success.